Saturday, August 3, 2013

Some thoughts on Pettersson from Robert von Bahr, BIS records

Dear Friends,

Exactly two years ago I thought I'd ask Robert von Bahr if he'd be willing to write a piece for this blog. As most of you know, Robert and BIS are a major driving force in promoting the music of Pettersson. Although he said he'd be willing, I hadn't heard anything since our initial exchange, and I assumed that he was just too busy. A few days ago I thought I'd ask one more time, and Robert promptly responded. I cannot tell you how grateful I am that Robert has taken the time to do this, and I am sure you will find that what he has to say about Pettersson both fascinating and enlightening. 

Robert wrote his response around several topics which I suggested. THANK YOU Robert!!!

What was your first encounter with Pettersson's music?

***happened when I was a choir member of the Stockholm Phil, then to become the resident recording engineer for the Orchestra, where Antal Doráti (with whom I became a friend and seriously discussed doing the cycle) was premièring the Pettersson 7th.  It made an indelible impression on me.***

How did you discover this music? 
***See above.  Being so mesmerized by the 7th, it was only logical that I continued to explore it.***

What motivated your decision to begin this project?
What are the main issues with recording Pettersson?
How do you find artists and orchestras for the project? 

***These questions hook into each other, and so I answer these three in a lump.  My interest and - after many years - ability to start pulling it through.  It may seem like a contradiction in terms, having started so long ago, that I consider this one of the more urgent projects in the history of recording music, but the music being non-commercial (doesn't sell many tickets) and extremely difficult to play, at least properly, it is an uphill struggle to get someone to programme and record it.  I firmly believe that, if one does something, one does it right or not at all.  The technical difficulties in playing Pettersson's music are formidable - the small strings in particular are written fiendishly "anti-instrumentally", but are, in fact, the only way to express the anguish, the emotional uproar (and, yes, justified self-pity) within the composer.  But that's only the technical part of it.  Much more important is the emotional part.  Quite simply, the music is draining on the emotions of the players, unless they are automatons.  It is one thing to play a concert and give all;  quite another to take it over and over again (which is necessary because of the technical difficulties) and still give the whole range of emotional impact necessary for the music to really live.  For that reason it is totally necessary to employ artists that are willing to give their all each time, every time, and, frankly, not so many conductors have the emotional depth, the talent to feel into the heart of the composer, and the stamina to pull it through.  Normally, therefore, recordings of Pettersson's music are live performances which - in the best case - do give the emotions, but usually are technically unsatisfactory. 

It is my great luck (or perhaps perspicacity) that I have found one orchestra and two conductors, willing to undergo the torture to programme and record this music in high-charge renditions.  The Norrköping SO, having performed on 3 records with the Finnish musical genius Leif Segerstam, until he pulled out of the project for undisclosed reasons many years ago, was having to think very long and hard, until they accepted to continue the cycle, now with the live-wire Christian Lindberg at the helm.  I had of course thought about this in the interim (some 15 years!), but never found anyone that had the emotional, mental and intelligence build-up to match Segerstam, so nothing happened.  Until Christian came along.

So, a few words about Christian.  I have known Christian, warts and all, for some 30 years.  He is about the most single-minded person I have ever had the pleasure to know, which his different careers prove - he was the one that made the trombone into an accepted solo instrument;  he has inspired the composition of around a hundred (yes, 100!!) trombone concertos, by the most respected composers there are;  he has branched out to start composing feverishly (the Flute Concerto I commissioned from him for Sharon Bezaly remains a masterpiece, albeit almost impossibly difficult) and, to cap it, steered his endless energy and energizing personality to inspire others on the podium, conducting them.

It is my luck (and Pettersson's) that Christian has been caught up in Pettersson's web and is devoting much of his energy to programme and promote Pettersson's music.  We started off by recording the 3 String Symphonies with a small band, for which Christian was Chief Conductor, and where he was sharpening his teeth, and now we have gone on to the big "nuts" in doing the symphonies, with Norrköping.  Since the project has such a magnitude, and is costing so much, we all had to delay the final decision about it, until we had the first recording behind us, but after that, it was voted through with a vast majority, even though the orchestral members knew that they'd be put through the wringer in the process.  There is noone - and I mean noone, with Christian's almost manic energy and stamina (not for nothing is he a good marathon runner) and to work with him means that one has to prepare even physically.  We now have the 6th, the "lost" No 1 + No 2 behind us, and the 9th safely in the can - and the way Christian has shaped it is sheer magic!!!  Thanks to Christian's generosity, we are also in the position to include DVD:s of Pettersson for free in the package - the 9th will come with an incredible, almost 2-hour interview DVD with Pettersson, made in the last years of his life - a totally mind-boggling DVD.  I consider this to be one of the very most urgent projects we have, and we will produce an "every-note-he-ever-wrote" Edition of Pettersson's music, the same way as we did with Sibelius.**

What does Pettersson mean to you, and why you are attracted to his music?

***The emotional contents, the total involvement necessary to listen to it, the lines I can draw from the music to the Pettersson person I experienced.***
Anything else of interest?

***I actually never met him, but, after having released "Vox Humana" in the late '70:s, he took as a habit to call me daily, or should I say nightly, at around 2.30 a.m., when his pains were at their worst, and basically scream out his frustration and sheer pain into the receiver.  This continued for about three months, and then it stopped without warning, never to be resumed.  I can only hope that this meant that his pains stopped/were stopped, but I will never know.  I asked several times if I could come and visit him, but he always refused adamantly - he didn't want anyone to see him in his condition, which of course I respected.  But the TV teams could?  He was an enigma, was Allan Pettersson!***


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